Marsh’s Library in Dublin was the perfect setting for a conference organised by Dr Marie-Louise Coolahan and Dr Gillian Wright to mark the death of Katherine Philips three hundred and fifty years ago. Over the three days, attendees listened to a wonderful range of papers that were diverse but also usefully interconnected, offering new and exciting perspectives on Philips and generating potentially fruitful discussions on her writing. Topics included the publishing history of Philips’s work and today’s editorial concerns, the literary contexts in which Philips wrote, the source materials and implications of her role as a translator, the complex and often competing dialectics of religion, memory, and friendship in her poetry, the circulation of her manuscripts, the afterlives of her printed texts, and the importance of Ireland as an enabling site, inspiring and building her reputation as a writer.
In the first plenary session, Linzi Simpson provided an enthralling account of how the seventeenth-century theatre, Smock Alley, was accidently discovered as part of an archaeological excavation; photographs and maps of the original walls along with images of various artefacts including oyster shells, wig rollers, and ceramic shards allowed the conference audience to re-imagine what it meant to experience a trip to the theatre in Philips’s time. Professor Sarah Prescott, in her plenary paper, argued that place and more particularly Wales played a very significant part in allowing Philips a pastoral haven from which to develop her writing and accelerate her literary output.
The conference concluded with a presentation from Professor Elizabeth Hageman that was generous in its scope and rich in scholarly detail. Crisscrossing the globe from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire to a library in Japan, Professor Hageman shared her insights and observations on the various editions of Katherine Philips’s books of plays and poems, pointing out and interpreting the significance of annotations, accounting for deviations in the title pages and frontispieces, and tracking the evolving patterns of owner histories across the centuries. In so doing, conference attendees were provided with a thoroughly researched body of evidence to substantiate Katherine Philips’s universal and timeless appeal as a writer for all kinds of readers. All of the papers were thought-provoking, whilst also confirming that much work remains to be done on the subject of Katherine Philips and her intellectually absorbing and challenging opus.
–Report by Ann-Maria Walsh, PhD Candidate, University College Dublin